Poems from missing (2010 Modjaji Books)

What Life is Really Like


You need to toughen up
my father would complain
when I was small
I ought to take you to see
chickens  having their heads
chopped off.
That’d teach you
what life is really like
.

He’d seek me out
when one of his pigeons
-crazed for home or
mad with terror from a
roaming hawk-
would tumble into
the loft
mutilated by
wire or beak.

I was the one made to
clench my palms round
its pumping chest,
to keep it still while
my father’s hairy fingers stitched
its garotted throat
angrily to rights again.

You see life is a fight for survival
he’d shout, forgetting
he was not lecturing his students
or giving his inaugural address
You gotta roll with the punches.

I waited and waited for that bitter
roughness to spy me and circle
in to land
  years and years
of flinching anticipation until
the day I came home from hospital

and my father dressed my wound.

Easing with practiced hands
the drip from my bulldozed chest
he renewed the plaster in breathing silence
never speaking never
once saying

Life’s a bastard
Toughen up.


What Life is Really Like